As part of our celebration of Pride month, Rosie Tyler-Greig, our Equality and Diversity Officer, has spoken with our internal Pride Network for LGBT+ identifying staff and allies, to explore the importance of personal pronouns and why we should all start sharing them in our working environment. We would like to thank Rosie and everyone who took part by contributing their thoughts and reflections.
We use personal pronouns every single day – when talking about ourselves, about our colleagues, friends, families and strangers. Yet, how often do most of us actively think about other people’s pronouns or even our own? How many of us state our pronouns in our email signatures, or say them out loud when introducing ourselves? Do many of us understand why doing so is actually important? Since pronouns can be particularly important for members of the LGBT+ community, we have spoken with our Pride Network to get their thoughts on some of these questions. Members also offered ideas that could help Healthcare Improvement Scotland be an even more inclusive environment.
Personal pronouns = identity
The first thing to understand is that personal pronouns impact everyone – whether you have never questioned your birth gender (so are cis-gender) or realised your gender is different to the one assigned (so are trans). We have all, at one point or another, come across unfamiliar or uncommon names, or names that could belong to different genders. In a situation like this, you may take special care to pronounce or spell a name correctly. Our pronouns are as much a part of our identity as our name – we use them throughout the day when talking about ourselves and those around us, so it is only natural that by using the right pronouns we are being respectful of someone’s individuality and identity.
Stating your pronouns = safe space
Using a person’s preferred pronoun is a sign of respect for them as an individual. Sharing your own, regardless of your gender or how ‘obvious’ your pronoun is, is an active step towards creating a safe space for everyone around you. This is because doing so normalises something that may be ‘less obvious’ and take bravery for someone else.
Our gender is at the core of who we are. Calling someone by the wrong pronoun feels the same as using the wrong name – it can invalidate who they are and undermine trust. It would be hard to feel safe expressing opinions or needs in any environment where people consistently called you the wrong name.
Asking questions = curious respect
All that said, what can we do to respect pronouns? Being respectful of others is a huge part of any healthy work environment and at one point or another, all of us will worry about accidentally offending or upsetting someone. If you find yourself unsure about someone’s pronouns, the easiest thing to do is just ask! Asking the question and learning in the process is so much better than making assumptions, or even worse, avoiding someone entirely because you are worried about saying the wrong thing. Similarly, if you find yourself making a mistake, apologise and move on just like you would if you mispronounced a name. There is no need to make it into a big issue.
Practice = perfect
Sometimes we may need to remind ourselves of the pronoun a person uses. Non-binary pronouns, they/them, seem to be an area people trip up at more often. Some people have assumed – incorrectly – that using ‘they/them’ in the singular is grammatically incorrect. Imagine someone, who you don’t know has left behind their phone. You would automatically say ‘they forgot their phone’. If you’re talking about an appointment with a clinician you haven’t met before, you’d say ‘I’m going to see them to ask them about…’ If you don’t know someone’s gender, you may just use ‘they’ until you get clarity. If you still find yourself tripping up, then practice – tell anecdotes about people using they/them pronouns, talk about your friends who identify as they/them when they aren’t around. Eventually, this will come more naturally.
We hope this article has clarified the important role that personal pronouns have. So how can you help make our communications more inclusive? Start by adding your personal pronouns to your email signature and stating them whenever you introduce yourself to someone new. For example, ‘Hi, I’m [name], my pronouns are [pronouns] and I [job]’
This shows that you are taking responsibility and sharing your knowledge. In turn, this takes some pressure off the LGBT+ community, who are so often expected to do the teaching. And remember – mistakes do happen, the key is that you learn from them!
Rosie Tyler-Greig is Equality and Diversity officer with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.